No matter how much I listen to my grandparents complain about feeling achy and needing to find their second pair of glasses, I didn’t truly understand their woes until I put on a pair of goggles to simulate what the elderly experience on a daily basis.
As part of a visit from Northwestern Mutual, I tried on the goggles to impair my vision, headphones to inhibit my hearing, elbow pads to restrict my joints and gloves to weaken my mobility. I joke that I’m already an old soul because I enjoy watching reruns of “The Golden Girls,” crocheting baby blankets and listening to hits by Dion & the Belmonts, but now I truly understand what it means to actually feel old, and it’s not pleasant.
See: These maps show just how crazy fast the world is aging
Having this experience (and it wasn’t even the full experience — Northwestern Mutual has an entire suit I haven’t tried) opened my eyes to not only the way the elderly might feel, but the disconnect between family members and financial professionals when dealing with senior citizens. There are so many things we want seniors to do, such as going to numerous doctor visits, reading the fine print of insurance and investment papers and staying up-to-date on any news that may affect them, but when what you hear sounds as though it’s being funneled through a tunnel and your eyesight is too blurry to see even a colleague a few feet away, these tasks can seem a bit daunting.
Does this mean everyone needs to try on a pair of goggles and attempt to pick up a few clothespins with feeble fingertips? No. But it does mean the next time your family member is walking a few paces behind you or asking you to repeat yourself once or twice, you can be a bit more compassionate and think of ways to help them. And it isn’t just the physical tasks they’ll need help with (though I’m sure they’d appreciate it). Long-term care planning is an important part of aging, not just as insurance, but to anticipate changes in accomplishing everyday tasks and staying healthy.
Here are a few ways to plan for the future (for you or a loved one):
Maximize savings in a high-deductible health savings account (HSA)
Health savings accounts are a triple-tax win, because the money is invested tax-free, grows tax-free and is withdrawn tax-free (if taken out for qualifying medical expenses). Investors do not have to use the money they invest any given year in the same year, but can roll it over year after year for the future. The maximum annual contribution limit single individuals with access to this plan can deposit in an HSA is $3,450 in 2018 (up $50 from last year). For families, the limit is $6,900.
There are pros and cons to an HSA though. One drawback is that these accounts come with high-deductible health insurance plans, which require investors have money set aside for initial health costs. The deductible for a single individual is $1,350, whereas for a family it is $2,700.
Know what Medicare will and won’t cover
People become eligible for Medicare at 65 years old, but they may be surprised as to what Medicare does and does not cover. For example, Medicare does not cover long-term care unless it follows a stay at a hospital and if the patient is expected to recover, Keckler said. Medicare Part A is for hospital insurance, Part B is for medical insurance, Part C is for Medicare advantage and Part D is for Medicare prescription drug coverage. Some people choose to buy extra health insurance called Medigap from a private insurer, for things such as dental and vision care, eyeglasses and hearing aids. For more of a breakdown on Medicare coverage, check the government’s website here.
Also see: A simple but thorough checklist to help aging parents
Look up life insurance and long-term care policies
There are numerous ways to get long-term care insurance. The misconception is that if you don’t use the insurance, you’ll lose the money you put into it, said Kamilah Williams-Kemp, vice president of long-term care for Northwestern Mutual. But that’s where policies can be customized. For example, if you don’t want to purchase a long-term care policy on its own, you can purchase a long-term care rider on a life insurance policy, which would kick in if the patient got to the point that he or she could not do a couple of everyday living activities, such as dressing, using the bathroom or feeding. Some may also want to have a life insurance policy and a disability policy so that the latter acts as income replacement in the event of a devastating accident and the former acts as reimbursement for medical expenses.
Bring up the topic gently
Truthfully, nobody likes talking about aging, nor do family members like talking about their loved ones getting sicker — but it is a conversation that has to happen. Instead of starting the conversation with talk of inheritance, consider saying you’ve been reading about or talking with professionals about long-term care and realized they had never discussed it with you, Keckler said. Ask them what they want, as well as what their expectations are for caregiving from you, others or professionals, and always ask for help understanding their wishes.